Monday, June 28, 2010

A Great Light has gone out...

The event that has brought me to write this evening is the passing of one of the great men of my lifetime. A lifelong academic, finances did not allow for this child of a West Virginia coal town to attend college. However, he rose above that and educated himself, reading everything he could - Cicero, world history, law, and the Bible - so well read in fact that he once quoted the entire detailed timeline of British monarchs to an English ambassador who had doubted an American's knowledge of the subject.

Some people will only know that he was once member of the Ku Klux Klan, briefly, but left the organization and regretted the decision for the rest of his life - calling it, "a horrible, horrible mistake". In his way, I quote Shakespeare - "the evil of men live after them - the good is often buried with their bones".
I will remember this man as a true champion of the people, as a scholar of the U.S. Constitution, and as a true Appalachian who never forgot where he came from. A child of the Great Depression, he married his wife Erma in 1937 (who passed away in March 2006) and they remained happily together for the rest of their lives.

He held more leadership positions in the U.S. Senate than any other member of Congress, and was the longest serving member, at 57 years. He was a prolific author, writing an autobiography as well as "Losing America" - a response to the arrogance of the G.W. Bush presidency. Never one to back down, he took on what he saw as unconstitutional bills and laws, which gave him the reputation as a champion for the underdog.

For example, in response to a question of gays in the military, he quoted academic works on the positive roles of homosexuals in ancient Rome - which caused some of his constituents to get angry red faces - but reportedly nearly caused Senator Ted Kennedy to have a giggling fit at the sheer strength of the argument.

While I never met him, I have seen his statue, which stands in the West Virginia Capital building.

He certainly did his best to "drag the state of West Virginia into the future kicking and screaming" - and while some things he did were unpopular, you have to admire his tenacity, his spunk, his intellect, and his ability to get things done. He didn't only give lipservice - he gave results. And that, my friends, is rare in anyone - and moreso in a politician. He could also play a mean fiddle, and did so on many occasions - most famously on Hee Haw when he performed "Will the Circle be Unbroken".

I like to think of him in my mother's words - as "the state Byrd". Well the skies in West Virginia are dark tonight, the fiddles are silent, and the future of our fair state is uncertain. All that remains is a thank you, Senator Byrd, and a solitary fiddle tune being carried on the wind ...

Senator Robert C. Byrd (Nov. 20, 1917 -June 28, 2010)